Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A tale of two hearts of liberty: Chief Albert Luthuli and Maxim Gorky

Chief Albert Luthuli
I was given a book gift on the life Albert Luthuli. I normally look at several books at any given time so I was also re-reading Mother by Maxim Gorky. It is exciting to be able to play with dates and see what was happening in different places at the same time. Contemproraiety has its interesting aspects. Chief Albert Luthuli and Maksim Gorky. They are very different but their passion for freedom and political growth measures the same. It is all consuming. Perhaps they both died for their love for freedom.

It sounds strange. Can you compare from all distances? I loved the frequent question at school. Compare and contrast...  But I often wonder what was happening in the same years or thereabouts in different places and people. What if I could hear a symphony of all events? Would it be a symphony or a cacophony? What about just two lives? Are they easy to see clearly? They both lived in very complex political arenas. Was Gorky murdered or did he die of a heart attack? How could a moving train slay Chief Albert Luthuli ever so cleanly on the back of the neck? Who killed him?

Could I make sense of a unity of facts without music but just seeing the dates and how they influence others? Seeing it clearly in my mind like in a crystal ball?   What did Luthuli and Maksim have in common? The former was brought up by his mother and the latter by his grandmother.  Where is the discordance in their lives? What did it mean to Gorky to be an orphan and for Luthuli to only have his Mother, the very person Gorky so longed to have that this influences the title of his book about change: Mother? Did deprivations of affections they needed from missing parents make them more of seekers of justice? What hope is there today for so many orphans in Africa. My article is a strange introspection. How much do Russia and Africa communicate? How much African literature do Russians or Chinese people know?

Can you compare this great spirit of Albert Luthuli to that of a writer's free spirit in Maksim Gorky? Well, I do because of the way the two handle change. One of these men became change, Luthuli. That was especially so when he chose to defend the ANC. Gorky other became the change in his writings which he sends out to the world. Both persons impressive for working against all odds. Chief Luthuli was a quiet and humble activist. Gorky wrote Song of the stormy Petrel, a poem that got the Marxist magazine banned. He was an activist though the writing and in speeches. Both men got arrested many times. The Chief was banned from addressing people. He joined many protests including the one after the Shaperville massacre.

Gorky (in white)and A. Chekov
Chief Albert John Luthuli (Nobel Peace Prize 1960) lived from c. 1898 to 21 July 1967. His Zulu name was Mvumbi. He was a teacher and a politician. He read and wrote a lot. He is the author of Let My People Go! Luthuli lived in exile too. Chief Luthuli was a fervent Christian but he was a friend of all. His role was in the non-violent struggle against apartheid. Today when the Chinese inundate Africa, will they inter-marry and learn with respect and depth our African languages?

Chief Albert Luthuli could answer all these questions today.  He was the first African, and the first person from outside Europe and the Americas, to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.Chief Luthuli believed in equality of all human beings. He knew how to love people who believed in other means of changing society.

The Chief worked with everyone who looked for good even when they did not agree on certain things. He worked with Moses Kotane, a Communist, Logan Naidoo tells us in the book about Goolam Suleman In the Shadow of Chief Albert Luthuli. Chief Albert Luthuli was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe then Southern Rhodesia where his father worked as an interpreter. His father died when he was 10 years old and his mother returned to Grouteville because they were very poor and life was hard. His mother had grown up in the royal court of King Cetshwayo, the third in the line of Zulu Kings and since King Shaka. (Logan Naidoo, In the Shadow of Chief Albert Luthuli)

Could they, being people of very diverse areas of origin have been inspired by the same things? What was it that made them make a difference?  One is a believer in God and the other an atheist. These are two men who knew the change they wanted to see. They envisioned it, owned it and set forth to let it grow. We need to learn from them. We need to desire a peaceful world not to the same extent that we desire to eat or wear a dress. This has to be madly. I love activists and Maksim Gorky was a political activist.

I have heard and seen something of Luthuli here and there, but visiting his Museum in Durban was very special. It happened that we went there as part of Poetry Africa 2012. The spirit of the man fills every nook and pricks with little rays of light, every little cranny in that place. I did not visit it, I experienced it. There is a sense of peace there. The school students who were there to recite pomes were for me the greatest sign of hope for Africa.

One wonders where all this peace and common sense has gone in some parts of the continent of Africa. We are descendants of very dignified people. Nobody feels out of place with people who have the spirit of freedom. People who struggle for it, no matter the differences they may have. We are surrounded by examples of good leadership which we do not allow to blossom, however. There is so much learning and study in Africa. So much study that we have to say if we are still failing to bring progress and stability to some nations it is because we are not interested.

There are many lessons to learn form literature, history and politics. Why are people only ready to listen to their own group leaders today in so many parts of Africa. Chief Albert Luthuli is a fine example. See how he handled Communism. Chief was never a Communist. But he knew how to work with everyone to attain freedom. "Moses is a top intellectual. I respect him highly. He is making a tremendous contribution to the cause. We will work together until freedom is atained; after that maybe Moses and I will fight because he is a Communist and I am a Nationalist." The Chief believed in the dignity of all peoples.

Maksim Gorky writes powerful things but this is his first sentence in Mother. "Every day the factory whistle bellowed forth its shrill, roaring, trembling noises inot the smoke begrimed and greasy atmostphere of the workingmens's suburb: and obedient to the summonss of the power steam, people pored out of little gray houses into the street. With somber faces they hastend forward like frightened roaches... Living a life like that for some fifty years, a workman died."

They are two very different men but whose were greatly involved in the lives of their nations and peoples. They are so different but their interest in humanity helps them overcome many difficulties and diffferences.  Perhaps they read one another. Perhaps they did not. Both did amazing work to ignite the consciousness of the people towards freedom and dignity.

Wikipedia writes of Gorky that, "At the heart of all his work was a belief in the inherent worth and potential of the human person. In his writing, he counterposed individuals, aware of their natural dignity, and inspired by energy and will, with people who succumb to the degrading conditions of life around them. Both his writings and his letters reveal a "restless man" (a frequent self-description) struggling to resolve contradictory feelings of faith and skepticism, love of life and disgust at the vulgarity and pettiness of the human world."

Maxim Gorky wanted to awaken the world to struggling for a better life. He was a political activist who funded Lenin's party but spoke against it when necessary. He did not join the party. He was a Marxist. He was part of the 1905 Russian Revolution. He opposed the Bolsheviks taking of power in 1917. He worked with people who did not agree with is ideas.

Yes, Gorky means "bitter" . Bitter is the last adjective one would use to describe the humble and peaceful Chief Albert Luthuli but these two men reach very far in stirring our consciences or the that of humanity, if such a thing exists, and for the good of the human race. Gorky,  is one of the many pen names that Alexei Macimovich Peshkov who lived from March 28th 1868  to 18th June 1936 used. His novel Mother was an immediate success.  He lived in exile. At the age of twelve in 1880, he ran away from home to find his grandmother. He was brought up by his grandmother. He lived in exile for many years. He handled paper and writing when it was very dangerous in his country to do so.

Chief Luthuli travelled a lot to speak with people about freedom. He travelled by bus. Gorky, deeply affected by the death of his mother travelled on foot across the Russian Empire for years looking for different jobs and gathering ideas for his writing. Maxim believed that man created God. However he has thousands of people who follow him today as a saint. Who follows Chief Albert Luthuli who prayed often for his nation and for guidance? Who thinks this ancestor of Africans is a saint? At least the followers part should matter. Africa needs generous, dedicated and happy leaders. Look at that smile again? 


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  2. Most interesting coincidence. I woke up at 3.00 am to read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's acceptance speech of his Nobel Prize for Peace in 1964. Inspired by the tribute he paid to Inkosi Albert Luthuli, I turned to read about him, again. And now after several months of absence from this platform I come here and who do we find here? Little is said today about great heroes and heroines of freedom like Inkosi Albert Luthuli and Robert Sobukwe.
    Barrack O. M.

  3. Thank you Muluka. Good for signing with your name. It is the first time am replying comments because I was quite afraid of spam and etc. I am so pleased to find that you visit here :-) I am pleased to offer what I think always. Yes, there is something about Inkosi Albert Luthuli as you call him so beautifully and visiting his former home in 2012, now a museum (On Fb) really jolted me. So moving. It is a statue of his, seated reading at the entrance, just the way one would do it in our homes in Africa, placing the table close to the entrance for more light... hard to call it a statue... he looks like he is just about to speak to one. I should have taken a photo of the lovely notebook I got there.